I've always loved Joan Fontaine and felt that maybe she'd be around forever, if for no other reason than to outlive her sister.
Much as I love both Fontaine and de Havilland, I always preferred the younger, seemingly more fragile and angular star. I share that seemingly distinctive western interest in sister stars and understand that particular fascination with multiple female siblings seen in the silent era's Pickfords, Gishes, Talmadges, Mason/Flugrath/Dana, Mersereau and Marshes, amongst others, in Classical Hollywood's Lanes and Fontaine/de Havilland and today's-- Fannings, Olsens and even Kardashians. As a sisterless child, I look on wistfully from afar at the idea of feminine closeness yet difference such stars offer, even as I recognize how these two were unique in their open mutual dislike of each other. Such hatred has always seemed incongruous coming from these gentle, delicate and even fragile figures, but perhaps that added to their appeal. Certainly anybody who survives into their 90s, reaches the height of stardom cannot be weak--images are, of course, notoriously deceptive and seductive.
Fontaine's beauty and delicacy--as a figure, performer and presence--embodied the apex of a certain Hollywood glamour. Astoundingly lovely, this amazing performer had her own unique screen presence that will never be forgotten. With her departure--as she wanted it, evidently, quietly, alone and in her sleep--we lose yet another tie to Classical Hollywood. Of the adult performers of the 1930s, I can only think of two--Luise Rainer and, of course, Olivia de Havilland--who are still with us. Fontaine's parting seems all the more threatening as it represents the end of this last great sister act and points to the inevitability that soon, all the major adult figures of the 1930s and 1940s will be gone. In my early teens I could still meet the very old stars of the silent era--figures like Lillian Gish who worked at Biograph, representing an era of Trust Companies and the one- and split-reel programme. The entire history of cinema was somehow still present within living memory but over the last two decades, those last survivors have gone, and with them the stars of the 1930s and 40s. Even the child stars like Baby Peggy are now in their 90s. Where I once stood in front of Lillian Gish as an adolescent, asking for her autograph, I last year stood in front of Baby Peggy and shook her hand--a child star who may now be the last link to the silent era and almost certainly is the last person alive who was captured on film in the 1910s.
So farewell Joan Fontaine. I always thought you were underrated as a star and as a beauty, not that that mattered to you then or now.
Where We're At
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